Holiday Cooking on a Budget

Holiday Cooking on a Budget

No time of year warrants sticking to a budget quite like the holidays, yet December is probably the most difficult month to be a penny-pincher; especially when it comes to food. First you’ve got the turkey. A good one will set you back at least $60-70. Then you’ve got to figure out what sides to pair with it. Everyone has their favourites so there really aren’t any you can eliminate. You can’t forget dessert either. Christmas chocolates? Yes please. But $15 for a box of Quality Street or Turtles, say what?

Thankfully good food doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are 3 dishes you can prepare to serve up to 6 people, for less than $30. If I did my math correctly, that’s less than $5 per person.

Your friends and family may throw a fit if you don’t have turkey for the holidays, so instead of cooking a whole bird, try opting for legs instead. They are dirt cheap – between $2.50 to $3 per leg – and braising them ensures they stay moist and tender, unlike that dry breast meat that no one likes.

For a side, try making a chickpea salad. Beans and legumes are a great way to add bulk to your meal and are a blank canvas to add a plethora of other flavours. The red and green colours of pomegranate and brussels sprouts scream “holidays” to me!

Finally, dessert is required at all holiday meals, regardless of how full you are. Grandma’s coconut snowballs are the easiest treats you will ever make in your life. You don’t even have to turn the oven on. Still they are a crowd favourite year after year.

I don’t know about you but that’s one tasty sounding budget meal right there. It will have everyone at your table saying “Merry Christmas”, your wallet included!

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BRAISED TURKEY LEGS

Serves 4-6 – costs $14.50

Ingredients

  • 4 turkey legs
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. dried herbs (I used a combination of rosemary, thyme and oregano)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Season the turkey legs with salt and pepper and brown them in a large skillet over medium-high heat. You are just looking to sear them, not cook them through.
  2. Remove the browned turkey from the skillet and place it in a large, oven-proof dish.
  3. Add the vegetables and dried herbs to the same skillet you browned the turkey in. Deglaze with chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  4. Pour the vegetables and stock over the turkey legs. Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 3-3.5h, or until tender. You can then use the braising liquid to make a gravy if you like, or you can serve the turkey as is. The turkey can also be braised a day ahead of time and just warmed up when you are ready to serve.

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CHICKPEA SALAD WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND POMEGRANATE

Serves 4-6 – costs $5 total

Ingredients

  • 1 14 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups raw brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2-3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. To make the dressing, whisk together the mustard and honey until smooth. Whisk in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Combine the chickpeas, pomegranate, and brussels sprouts in a bowl. Pour in the dressing and stir to combine.
  3. This salad is best eaten after a couple of hours because it allows the dressing to marinate the chickpeas and brussels sprouts. You can ever make ahead of time to serve the next day.

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COCONUT SNOWBALLS

Makes 20 balls – costs $7.50 total

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 6-8 oz. chocolate chips (about 1/2 of a typical 350g package)
  • shredded coconut, as needed (about 1-1 1/2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Stir together all ingredients except the shredded coconut.
  2. Roll the mixture into bite-sized balls and coat each with coconut.
  3. Refrigerate if not eaten immediately.
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A Thanksgiving Collaboration with Kendra Thornton

I failed you guys. Thanksgiving came and went here in Canada without me providing a single recipe for turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce or anything other than fall desserts really. I don’t have a good excuse for why it turned out this way. Sure I tend to focus on dessert anyways but I have never excluded savoury recipes from my site. I think what it really came down to for me was the fact that Thanksgiving all holidays are really more about family and tradition than they are about blogging. Let’s face it, I’m not going to do two Thanksgiving meals, one for photo purposes and one for actually celebrating Thanksgiving. Even though I do it around my immediate family, I don’t think it is appropriate to let 12 people’s food get cold while I work at getting the ultimate shot of the Thanksgiving spread. I guess you don’t technically need pictures to share a recipe but I know they are the first thing that catches my attention. 

Thanksgiving Turkey
I figured somewhere on my computer I would be able to find a picture of a turkey from Thanksgivings past.
Charred Brussels Sprouts
Charred Brussels

Enough about the actual logistics, pictures or not I am going to share with you a little of what Thanksgiving looks like in Canada, or at least in my family. The bird is the word, no questions asked. Somehow even as a vegetarian I still take on the responsibility of cooking the turkey. Hypocritical, perhaps, but I would rather do it just to remain in control in the kitchen. I always roast it hot and fast. I tried the low and slow thing once and it produced the driest turkey I have ever served in my life. I was not even eating it and I was embarrassed that others had to. For the 6kg (about 13lb) bird I cooked this year, I started it in a 450F degree oven, turning the heat down to 350F and letting it go for just under 3 hours. A little bit of stuffing goes in the turkey but I cook most of it in a 9×13 pan (mainly because that makes it vegetarian!). Homemade cranberry sauce is a necessity. My sister and I always fight over who gets to clean out any leftovers in the bowl, eating it straight with a spoon. Otherwise it really is a straight forward spread; mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots, pickled vegetables (this year beets and carrots made the table), homemade buns, a variety of salads and pumpkin pie. 

Brioche Buns
Brioche Buns

A fellow blogger contacted me the other day with the idea of doing a collaborative Thanksgiving piece and I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast her Thanksgiving traditions in Chicago with mine here in Calgary. I would say there are more similarities than there are differences. Although I had to laugh when I read her description of autumn, we are already well into winter! Here is what Kendra has to share about her upcoming Thanksgiving plans. You can check her out on Twitter too!

There is no doubt that you have seen the signs that autumn is upon us. You simply cannot miss the orange leaves falling from the sky, the cool breeze that emerges in the late afternoon and of course the buzz about family plans for the holidays. I adore Thanksgiving simply because it allows the entire family to gather together to give thanks. My family loves to express gratitude and thankfully we get to go to Chicago this year to do it!
One of my favorite online tools of recent years is Pinterest. I’ve been using it to find new ideas for desserts and appetizers, especially ones that the little ones can help with. I am always delighted by the willingness of the kids to help me prepare meals and decorate for the holidays, especially as they get older. Unfortunately, mess is still a problem with us. I find that the simpler the task I provide, the better (and cleaner) the results. Regardless, I love their help and I am always looking for new meals we can make together. It is truly a great bonding and learning experience.
I love our family’s established traditions for Thanksgiving. Like many families, we have a few annual staples that are readily available. These include turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and stuffing. That does not mean I don’t like to mix things up on occasion. Since we will all be in Chicago this year I really want to try some new dishes for all of our family and guests! Recently I read an article on Gogobot that featured what five luxury hotels will be cooking up for their guests on Thanksgiving called, “Turkey Trimmed to the Nines!” I saw a velvet pumpkin soup with lobster that I’m going to make my own and add to the menu this year! This is just a little appetizer but I think it will be delicious for our family. This will really spice things up in the dining room this year alongside our traditional fare. I’m really excited to try it!
Each year that we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner we go around the table and express at least one thing we are thankful for. This year I am going to express gratitude for my loving family. I really think this is a great idea for any family and I encourage you to try it this year. This is the time to make memories, whether you are cooking with the kids or traveling around the world; do it safely and have fun!
What are your Thanksgiving traditions?!
 
Kendra Thornton is a travel advocate, TV spokesperson, PR businesswoman, proud wife and mama of 3. She currently resides in Chicago, IL. 
 
Kendra Thornton
 

Turkey Quesadillas

I have been quite lazy when it comes to food lately. Combine this with the fact that I work in a kitchen and get fed every time I am there, I really haven’t been doing much cooking. However, I did make quesadillas the other night, the epitome of the “starving student” type meal. I still had some turkey left over from Thanksgiving (that’s what happens when you live by yourself!) so I added some cheese and veg, sandwiched it between 2 tortillas and there you have it. If that isn’t something that absolutely anyone can cook, I don’t know what is. Use whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand, my flavor combinations are merely a suggestion.

Ingredients:

– 2 whole wheat tortillas
– turkey breast, shredded
– zucchini (sauted first in some olive oil, salt and pepper)
– cheese (a combination of shredded cheddar and crumbled blue)

If you are using a vegetable(s) or meat that needs to be cooked first, go ahead and do it. Unless you want to eat raw chicken….speaking of which, here’s a fact for you, there is actually a breed of chicken in France called “poulet de bresse” (blue foot chicken is the American/Canadian version) that is salmonella free, therefore it can be consumed without cooking. And yes, their feet are truly blue.

Back to the quesadillas, once all of the ingredients are prepared, it is simply an assembly job. I really don’t think I have to explain how to sprinkle on the cheese, then layer the turkey, then the zucchini…you get the point…I hope. I will say that it helps to start and end with a handful of cheese, allowing it to act as the glue that keeps everything together.

Once they are ready to cook, heat up a pan over medium heat (you will probably want to be on the low side of medium, rather than the high side). I cook mine dry, allowing the tortilla’s to toast sans extra oil/grease/fattiness. It is ready to flip once the first side is golden and crisp. Repeat on side 2, remove and cut into quarters, eat up!

Thanksgiving 2011

When celebrating Thanksgiving away from home and without all of your family, you have one of two options to choose from: a) You can sit around, slurping up ramen noodles (is that broth salty from the chicken bouillon or your tears?), sulking because you have no one to share the holiday with or b) You can cook a full out turkey dinner for all of your fellow students who did not go home either. Needless to say, I chose option b). Actually “chose” is too mild of a verb…I tackled option b) like a 300 pound defensive lineman sacking a quarterback!
It all began early this morning, while everyone else was still in bed, hoping that the sleep would prolong their inevidable hangovers. But not me, nope, I was up at the crack of dawn and off to the market! I even texted a few of the guys, out of courtesy, to see if they wanted to join me. Judging by the fact that the first response came more than 2 hours later, I guess the answer was no. But they can’t complain that I didn’t ask!

You could definitely tell that it’s Thanksgiving weekend because the market was packed! After hunting down a turkey (not literally, it was already dead, plucked and cleaned!) and picking up some veg for the side dishes, it was time to start cooking.
I had some 7-UP hanging out in my fridge so I decided to use it in the cranberry sauce, instead of water and sugar. Don’t laugh at me! The lemon/lime flavor with the cranberries totally worked! I also made a mixed bean salad with dijon and apple cider vinegar dressing. Then I was ready for a break…lunch time! Although it was just leftovers, my stomach really appreciated the fuel after all of my running around. Did you know that chocolate souffle actually tastes better the second day? It becomes dense and fudgey, soaking up the sweet custard sauce like a sponge (don’t worry, the recipe will be coming later on in the week).
I couldn’t deviate from the schedule too much, so I packed up and headed off to our actual dinner venu to get the turkey lurkey in the oven. We decided it would be better to do the meal at someone’s house, rather than stuffing 6 people into my tiny, one-bedroom dorm. That would have been interesting, especially considering I only have 3 chairs!
Anyways, for the turkey. So, so simple. I rinsed it off and stuffed it with dry, cubed bread (it was ciabatta but your choices are endless) mixed with chicken stock, onion, celery and fresh herbs. Instead of using a roasting rack, I made a make shift one with a bed of carrots, onion, celery, garlic, rosemary and thyme, all tossed together with salt, pepper and olive oil (and placed in the bottom of the roaster). I also seasoned the turkey with salt and pepper. No butter or olive oil massage, simple S&P did the trick.

Now here is the key to acheiving ultra-crisp skin. Preheat your oven to 500 F, or as hot as it will go. Then when you put the turkey in, turn it down to between 325-350 (it really depends on your oven). This extra heat leads to the most picturesque, golden brown turkey you have ever seen! Honestly, it deserves to be on the cover of a magazine. Obviously cooking time depends on the size. My bird was 10-12 pounds (and stuffed) and it only took 2.5 hours. Personally, I think basting is overrated. The only reason that it will dry out is if you leave it in the oven too long, it’s not rocket science. Over-cooking = dry turkey.
I covered the wing tips to prevent them from burning
Once it was finished, I took it out of the roaster, covered it with tin foil and let the birdie rest. If you slice into it right away, all of the juices will run everywhere, then you are guaranteed to have a dry turkey.
Gravy time! My mother may not like to cook, but if there is one thing she taught me, it’s how to make a killer gravy! You have to scrape all of the wonderful caramelized bits off of the bottom of the pan, the darker the gravy is, the better. I deglazed with a combo of wine and chicken stock, then allowed everything to reduce down. I strained it so no one got a mouthful of rosemary stems, skimmed the fat/oil off the top and returned the liquid to the stovetop in a clean saucepan. To thicken, I was always taught to use a slurry of cornstarch and water (so I stuck to tradition). And the number one, biggest, most important factor of all…SALT!!! I am not telling you to go and dump the entire container in, but you need to be liberal. Nothing is worse than bland gravy. Come on, make that turkey proud (and in my case, make my mother proud too)!
Serve everything up with a big bowl of mashed turnip, an assortment of pickled vegetables, baked wild rice (all the way from Ontario!) and great company, you will be glad you opted out of choice a) (being all alone, just you and your ramen noodles).
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I have so many things to be thankful for but family, friends and food definitely top the list! Enjoy the holiday, regardless of what you choose to cook or how you choose to cook it. For those of you who have never attempted turkey dinner before, hopefully this provides some insight to use as a starting point. Don’t be intimidated, because no matter how the food turns out, as long as you have people to share the experience with, it will be amazing anyway you slice it!
And that reminds me, I never explained my preferred method of carving a turkey. Rather than shaving off slices, I remove each breast, then slice them right on the cutting board. For the dark meat, I use both my knife and hands. The legs twist right off and depending on their size, you can leave them whole or peel the meet right off. Same goes with the thighs. At the end of the day though, no particular way is right or wrong. After doing it a few times, you get to know which way works best for you, so stick with it!
  
Making some delicious wild rice!

The spread

Keeping the boys in line!!!

Again, Happy Thanksgiving! I think that’s enough information for anyone’s brain to absorb from a single post!!! Cheers!!!